We’ve analyzed a 100-year history of Polish cinematography and made up our own list of 10 most prominent Polish films. Together with a brief historical reference, this selection will be fair enough to get familiar with one of the greatest filmmaking nations. Read, watch, enjoy, repeat!

Polish Films Guide: Part 1

Brief historical Insight

Polish film industry dates back to the 1908 premier of Antoni Fertner’s silent film Antoś for the First Time in Warsaw. Two years later, the world is presented with the first ever animated cartoon by Władysław Starewicz’s and numerous screen adaptations of Polish literature get the whole Polish film industry on the upswing. In times of WWII, Polish filmmakers successfully appear on the European screens with their films largely rebranded in German and femme fatale of silent cinema, Pola Negri.

After the 1949-1956 Stalinist regime and its strict censorship rules, the cultural thaw of 1956 helps resurrect Polish film industry with a new wave of highly-talented directors and screenwriters like Andrzej Munk, Andrzej Wajda, and Roman Polanski.

Political life during Cold War, the election of Pope Paul John II, and the protesting movements against the Iron Curtain become prominent themes in the works of Agnieszka Holland, Wojciech Marczewski, Krzysztof Zanussi, and Krzysztof Kieślowski.

The complete renaissance of Polish cinema is symbolized by universally acclaimed productions of Krzysztof Kieślowski (Dekalog (1988), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Three Colors (1993-94), Krzysztof Krauze’s The Debt (1999), and recent Oscar for Best foreign-language film Ida (2015).

Trying to encapsulate all the niceties of Polish cinema in just 10 films will not, of course, reveal its full magnificence. For those who never stop exploring and want to be updated on the latest releases, we highly recommend not to miss on 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival.

For starters, let’s get familiar with the most highly acclaimed films already available for all subscribers of Polish TV Company.

Eroica (1957)

Director: Andrzej Munk

Andrzej Munk’s masterpiece (another release title Heroism) is devoted to the theme of Polish heroism during WWII. The first part, Scherzo Alla Pollacca, tells a tragicomic story of a playboy, drunkard, and pleasure-seeker Dzidziuś who reluctantly joins Home Army during Warsaw Uprising and has to bear heavy burdens of military life; the second one, Ostinato Lugubre, is set in a prisoner of war camp for Polish soldiers. One of the prisoners, Lt. Zawistowski, intends to escape from the POW and suddenly disappears. His courage and fearlessness ingrain hope in his inmates, elevating Zawistowski to the level of a local legend. However, it turns out the Lieutenant hasn’t gone anywhere and all this time has been hiding in the attic from his colleagues and their obsessive patriotism he could never stand.

Eroica received FIPRESCI Award at the 1959 Mar del Plata Film Festival and was first presented to a wide Polish audience in 1972.

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Director: Andrzej Wajda

The last part of the war film trilogy (A Generation (1954), Kanal (1956)), one of Francis Ford Coppola and Scorsese’s favorite films, and possibly the best Polish realist film of all times.

Wajda develops the theme of valor and heroism during the Nazi German occupation of Poland. The director restructures revolutionary spirit and life of insurgents depicted in Jerzy Andrzejewski’s novel. The former Home Army soldiers Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) and Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) plot the assassination of the Polish communist Commissar Szczuka. Although they fail at their first attempt resulting in the death of two innocent civilians, the main characters receive a second chance which leads them through the line of intricated events mixing civil duty with a tender love story.

The film title Ashes and Diamonds refers to the poem Cyprian Norwid, which is found written on the wall in one of the scenes.

It’s worth noting Zbigniew Cybulski’s (Maciek) and his Dean Martin-like style with dark glasses and an automatic gun. Andrzej Wajda agreed to develop this revolutionist cool look that became iconic a few years before famous Cuban Revolution and its legendary leader Che Guevara.

In 1960, Ashes and Diamonds received 2 BAFTA nominations for Best Film from any Source and Best Foreign Actor and won FIPRESCI Prize at Venice Film Festival 1959.